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Mummy Congress [Paperback]

Heather Pringle
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 13 2002
From the dusty origins of mummification in the deserts of South America and Africa to the latest technology hyped on the Internet by Utah's Summum Corporation (which promises mummification for millennia for a mere $62,000), "The Mummy Congress" investigates the allure of mummies. In 1998 Heather Pringle visited the remote Chilean port of Arica for The World Congress on Mummy Studies. This book introduces us to the eccentric world of the researchers and academics who investigate such phenomena as the child mummies of the Chinchorro, preserved over 7000 years ago, animal mummies from Ancient Eygpt, the 19th century Buddhist tradition of self-mummification to ward off decay, and the political mummification of 20th century demagogues like Lenin and Eva Peron. Pringle also looks at the uses of mummies for today's historians and scientists and how much they tell us about ancient cultures. This research is sometimes bizarre, but often reveals fundamental truths.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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From Amazon

Mummies fascinate us. As we peer at their withered flesh, we are glimpsing a type of immortality. Heather Pringle tells the stories of some of these "frail elders"--and the scientists who study them--in The Mummy Congress.

Pringle details the tension between the preservationists, who want to protect the ancient dead and refuse to unwrap them, and the dissectionists, who see mummies as a repository of scientific data waiting to be studied. She also introduces the reader to the preserved dead from around the world--from the bog bodies of northern Europe to the mysterious Caucasian-looking mummies from China's Tarim Basin, from Egyptians in linen shrouds to incorruptible Christian saints, and from Lenin in his Moscow mausoleum to Incan children found on Andean mountaintops.

Peppered with fascinating snippets of information--for example, for centuries artists were sold on a pigment called "mummy," a transparent brown made from ground-up mummies--The Mummy Congress makes for lively, if somewhat ghoulish reading. Highly recommended. --Sunny Delaney --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Pringle's mummy experts are livelier than a crypt full of stacked corpses. This is high praise given how successfully the author animates the dead in this delightfully macabre piece of mortuary globe-trotting. The trip begins at the World Congress on Mummy Studies, held last in arid Arica, Chile. Arica's climate makes it the ideal place to bring your mummy as eccentric scholars do, by the busload. From South America, Pringle, a frequent contributor to magazines like Discover and Islands, departs for the global ateliers of this weird profession, from the makeshift morgue of Art Aufderheide in Egypt, where plastic bags full of brittle corpses are piled by the dozens; to the Peruvian mountaintops, where an American adventurer's discovery of a beautiful Inca girl named "Juanita," an ancient and flawless sacrifice to the gods, ignites a media frenzy; to the subterranean caverns beneath Red Square, where a team of mausoleumists tended to Lenin's lifelike remains, and freelanced their skills out to fellow communists wanting to see their own dead leaders under glass. Pringle's gifts as a writer and a journalist are evident on every page. In brisk, vivid prose she delivers the secrets of the mummy trade: mummies as medicine; the self-preservation techniques of Japanese monks; and the Vatican's modern-day practitioners of the temple priest's art. Pringle's mummies and the men and women who love them make for fascinating and lively reading; this book is sure to have, as they say, a very long shelf life. Agent, Anne McDermida. (June)Forecast: A five-city author museum tour and undoubtedly many positive reviews will help the book reach its potentially wide audience, way beyond the usual gallery of science fans.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction to the topic Dec 12 2003
The writer brings a journalistic approach to the topic of mummies and the sub-title of the book clearly defines the multiple angles she chose to follow. She covers a great deal of territory, both geographically (all the continents except Antarctica) historically, psychologically and morally.
In a sense this is almost an "Encyclopedia of the Mummy" because it covers so many aspects of mummy hunting, dissecting and preserving. Most mummy hunters seem obsessed by their quest. They may be after mummies for scientific, historic, theatric or religious reasons, but hunt them they must. This raises moral issues; after all these were once human beings that we are putting on display, slicing for DNA or just carting off to some museums storage room. Can we justify it if we, say, understand some disease better after the research? Or is it just voyeurism for us all to know what the Iceman ate for his last meal?
The writer introduces us to individual mummy hunters, strong characters all, and the unusual places they work. Her writing is clear and vivid, if a trifle long. She is at her best describing the moral and psychological issues surrounding our fascination with mummies and the way they relate to our own mortality anf hopes for immmortality.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive... March 13 2002
I picked up this book recently at the library. And then I couldn't put it down. Author Heather Pringle manages to keep the pace lively throughout this book; not that the subject matters hurts either.
I didn't know much about mummies going into this book, except how the ancient Egyptians prepared theirs. "The Mummy Congress" soon put an end to my ignorance, and in a very amusing, captivating way. In the book, we are introduced to the mummy experts and their beloved mummies in detail. Pringle pulls no punches in her descriptions of the people or the ethcial dilemmas they sometimes face. She also gives the reader a multitude of lessons in mummies. Did you know that some of the paintings you may see in museums were painted with a pigment called Mummy -- made out of ground mummies? Did you know that there are many mummies in South America which tell us how the culture faced grief? Did you know that caucasians once lived in China? Read this book, and you'll learn many such facts. The best thing is that Pringle doesn't write for the expert; she's writing for those of us with an interest, but no experience. And she manages to do it in an entertaining way. I couldn't find any dull parts in this book. So, read it and be amazed at the ancient worlds and people you'll get to know. I can't recommend this book highly enough!
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Pringle displays ample skill as a non-fiction writer: careful word choice, an eye for metaphor and a keen facility for description. She straddles the gap between what she calls " the everlasting dead" and the living (if marginally so, in some cases) who love them, and gives shape to our obsession with styxian realms. The reader experiences vivid cross-sections of what must be an enormous world, the world of mummies: from Lenin's waxy vestiges in his mausoleum to ancient Danes exhumed by nature from their boggy preservation to the brittle clay remains of Peruvian children. Pringle provides wonderful texture to a fascinating and bizarre (nether)world. One wonders why a comprehensive treatment of the subject for lay people has heretofore not been attempted.
Yet, for all the excellent writing and compelling subject matter, Pringle's work lacks falls just short of the last yard: a unifying spiritual theme, a thread of allegory to tie it all together and leave a more permanent impression. One gets the sense that she is curious about mummies and their students, but not consumed by them, not possessed by them. She does not love them, and so cannot make them and her work a transcendent experience, as it so rightly should be. And she comes so close.
Still, this book is a very welcome addition to my scientific non-fiction shelf, and one I will return to again and again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mummy Congresses are more fun thanks to Heather! Jan. 17 2002
The clever and winsome Heather Pringle has succeded in writing a simply wonderful account of the quaint practice of preserving people after their death. Some mummies are probably preserved more by accident rather than intention while others are the subjects of elaborate embalming (cf Nature 413:837-841, 2001). She has included all manner of ancient remains and although her knowledge of paleo-PCR and RNA signatures from reverse transcription is somewhat ephemeral she has done both her footwork and her homework very well. One bizarre practice, that of preserving "wet" modern day mummies in liquid nitrogen in the uninformed belief that they can somehow be resurrected at sometime in the future demonstrates the continued gullibility of the ignorant.
Another emerging technology not mentioned is in preserving bone marrow stem cells or other somatic cells in the frozen state for eventual cloning by nuclear transfer. Cells from at least one former president rest in a freezer somewhere (but without the intention of eventual cloning).
Be that as it may, Pringle's book is a wellspring of information on the philosophy and practice of preserving the human body.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book on the science of the ancient dead
A great book about a weird topic. HP makes some very telling insights about mummies as dead people yet also as natural objects. Read more
Published on May 9 2002 by Erik Strommen
5.0 out of 5 stars Mummies Around the World
This was a great book. I purchased it to help with a paper I'm writing for a class on mummies at the New School in NY. Read more
Published on April 4 2002 by Stern Fan
5.0 out of 5 stars amusing, informative & weird!
The Mummy Congress is as dramatic as it sounds. The cover photo is arresting & you have got to wonder what these "leading mummy experts" are like? Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2002 by Rebecca Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Gruesomely fascinating
The Mummy is a history of the practice of mummification. We tend to think of this as a purely Egyptian phenomenon, but that isn't the case at all. Read more
Published on Nov. 17 2001 by Alan Robson
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book for general reader
Heather Pringle's "The Mummy Congress" is one of the best science books for the general reader in a long time. Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2001 by Ein Kunde
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading Heather Pringle is like saying "Mummy, I'm Home!!"
Author Heather Pringle brings mummies and their mummyologists into the homes AND hearts of the reader with a style that is easy to welcome in! Read more
Published on Oct. 10 2001 by Carla J. Schultz
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, accessible book for the "average" person
My husband picked up this book and then decided not to read it and instead moved onto another, but I decided to give it a try. Boy, am I glad I did. Read more
Published on Sept. 10 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars good for beginners
This book is an interesting, chatty, survey of mummies worldwide for people who don't already know a good deal about it. Read more
Published on Aug. 22 2001 by M. S. Butch
5.0 out of 5 stars Lively Mummies
To paraphrase Faulkner, the dead are not past; they are not even dead. Heather Pringle, in a wonderful book, _The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead_... Read more
Published on Aug. 17 2001 by R. Hardy
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